Like the golfers who play them, courses that host golf’s four major championships are among the best in the world. These thought-provoking and aesthetically-stunning designs are so revered they are often considered works of art. Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2 and The Ocean Course at Kiawah: these are just a few examples of the shrines on display during The Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
These thought-provoking and aesthetically-stunning designs are so revered they are often considered works of art. This much we know: The Masters will always be played at Augusta, and the other two U.S.-based majors are scheduled years in advance by the USGA and PGA of America. We say just because a course isn’t on this hallowed docket doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of offering a major championship experience.
Below is a list of courses with the chops to stand up to the world’s great players, design variety to keep the accomplished amateur engaged, while being playable enough to appeal to recreational golfers and weekend warriors.
The Champion Course at PGA National Resort and Spa (Palm Beach Gardens, Florida)
Fresh off its sixth straight year of successfully hosting the PGA TOUR Honda Classic, the 2012 tournament had a dramatic final round with Tiger Woods shooting a 62 on the vaunted Jack Nicklaus redesign in pursuit of eventual winner Rory McIlory. In addition to the Honda Classic, The Champion’s storied history includes hosting the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship, and nearly two decades of the Senior PGA Championship. For more information: 561.627.2000 www.pgaresort.com
Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Oregon)
Often described as the best links course in the country and to some, , Pacific Dunes is a Tom Doak-designed instant classic despite opening only a decade ago. Perched 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean and stretching along miles of coastline, it boasts stunning ocean views and dramatic cliffs, defined by nature’s infinite presence. In addition to its setting, Pacific Dunes offers innumerable shotmaking challenges and beautiful visual drama as the Pacific Ocean meets the rugged shoreline of South Oregon’s coast For more information: 541.347.4380. www.bandondunesgolf.com
Old American Golf Club (The Colony, Texas)
Old American is the work of acclaimed designer Tripp Davis and PGA Tour star Justin Leonard. Inspired by the ‘Golden Age’ of golf course architecture (1911 -1937), Old American’s natural contours, hazard styles, native grasses and green shapes were influenced by such masterpieces as Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links, Prairie Dunes and Crystal Downs. The course is quickly becoming known as “the place the pros play.” Thanks to a 7,000-yard-plus layout with the teeth to host a major event, Old American is a regular stop for many DFW-based pros including Leonard, Y.E. Yang, John Senden, Ron Pampling, K.J. Choi and Nathan Green. For more information: 972.370.4653, www.oldamericangolfclub.com
Medalist (Hobe Sound, Florida)
One of the most exclusive golf experiences in the country, Medalist counts among its members more than 30 PGA Tour players, including Woods and Fowler. A Greg Norman and Pete Dye collaboration, Medalist was designed to evoke a pure golf experience reflecting and enhancing its natural surroundings. With a steep course rating of 74.5 and slope of 142, the personality of the 7168-yard layout changes dramatically with varying wind conditions. Medalist pays homage to the finest traditions of the game, and with its “professional” membership, a veritable major championship takes place daily during the Tour’s offseason.For more information: 772.545.9700, www.medalistgolfclub.org
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
With more than 60 years of rich history and tradition, the Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach is a Robert Trent Jones oceanside gem that has hosted six Senior Tour Championships, the U.S. Women’s Open and the finals of the PGA Tour’s Q-School. Its renowned 13th, coined “Waterloo,” is a 590-yard par-5 doglegging so severely around a lake that famed golf writer Dan Jenkins said “the only way to reach it in two is to charter a boat.” For more information: 843.449.5914 www.thedunesclub.net
Wanamaker Course, PGA Golf Club (Port St. Lucie, Florida)
Named in honor of Rodman Wanamaker, who in 1916, inspired the birth of The PGA of America, the Fazio design is a classic Florida layout. Set against a backdrop of wetlands, palm trees and palmettos, Wanamaker is considered one of the state’s most beautiful courses. Since opening in 2006, it has gained a reputation as a “players” course, boasting a 144 slope rating from its 7,123-yard medal tees. For more information: 772.467.1300, www.pgavillage.com
Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head Island, South Carolina)
Already home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage, Harbour Town Golf Links was ranked No. 2 in the “Top 10 PGA TOUR Courses” behind only Augusta National in a survey of Tour players. The iconic Pete Dye design, with its red- and white-striped lighthouse standing sentinel behind the 18th green, is widely regarded as the epitome of “strategic golf.” Golfweek’s Bradley Klein says, “It’s one of the most innovative and revolutionary designs in the history of golf architecture.” For more information: 843.363.8385, www.seapinesgolf.com
Spy Glass Hill (Pebble Beach, California)
One of Robert Trent Jones Senior’s finest courses, Spy Glass Hill is rated one of the toughest in the world from the championship tees. Opened in 1996, the layout features two drastically different types of terrain that influence the way the holes look and play. The PGA Tour consistently lists Spyglass Hill’s holes 6, 8 and 16 among the toughest on the Tour, despite never hosting a U.S. Open or PGA Championship. A stern test of golf, the course stretches 6,960 yards through sandy seaside dunes and majestic pines providing unmatched scenery and an unprecedented playing experience on one of the most exclusive pieces of real estate in the country. For more information: 831.625.8563, www.pebblebeach.com
Kiva Dunes (Gulf Shores, Alabama)
Meandering along the Gulf Coast and stretching 7,092 yards, the links-style Kiva Dunes provides golfers with a true test of skill with native sand dunes, lakes and wildlife areas spread throughout the course. Recognized all over the world as one of golf’s best and most unique challenges, the Jerry Pate-designed championship course is consistently ranked a top course in Alabama and in the country. Secluded on an extraordinary piece of property that lies directly on the Gulf of Mexico, Kiva Dunes is Alabama’s only beachfront golf resort, and the ubiquitous Gulf Coast winds wreak havoc with shotmaking. For more information: 888.833.5482 , www.golf.gulfshores.com
Payne Stewart Golf Club (Branson, Missouri)
Opened in 2009, Payne Stewart Golf Club is the newest addition to the Branson, Missouri golf scene. But the name of the course and stories on each hole honoring the late great U.S. Open Champion are not the only reasons to add them to the list. Named the No. 1 public course in Missouri this year by Golfweek, this meaty 7,324-yard par 72 course also has some of the most challenging par 3s in the Midwest. For more information: 877.337.2963, www.paynestewartgolfclub.com